The History of the Log Cabin Quilt
The origin of the log cabin quilt pattern is difficult to pin down as it appears to have a very long history. A basic explanation of the pattern is that the center piece is usually a square. The quilter then takes strips of cloth and starts placing them around the sides in a sequence. Depending on the effect desired, light and dark colors are alternated. The quilt colors can be carefully planned out or added randomly as scraps became available. Each style has its fans.
Some folklore meanings to the log cabin quilt relate to the center piece and how the quilt block is pieced together. The center piece was traditionally a red square and was believed to stand for the hearth of the house, as told by the quilters to others in the late 1800s. The strips of material surrounding the center square alternate light and dark sides representing the sunny side of a house and the side in the shade. Another meaning to the light and dark stripes is that the light side relates to happiness and the dark side to sorrow, of which life is filled.
Log cabin quilts have been sewn in the United States since the 1860s. They became very popular during the Civil War as they were sewed and auctioned to raise money for troops. One of the more popular named log cabin designs was the Barn Raising, which alternates light and dark material in a diagonal pattern. Other common patterns are the Court House Steps and Sunshine and Shadows. Traditionally, the center piece is a square, but almost any geometric shape can be used. Today the log cabin pattern may be considered an American design, but there are many instances throughout history of this pattern and it goes beyond quilts.
When early British explorers opened Egyptian tombs, the pattern of wrapping and colors on some of the funeral objects and animal mummies clearly showed a log cabin design. The log cabin pattern was also found in the floor tiling in temples and other Egyptian buildings. The French picked up on this pattern from the British and used it as well. Even land cultivation techniques have been cited as sources for the log cabin pattern, relating to the crop rows around the house.
The traditional method for sewing a log cabin quilt is to place the "log" strips around the center square. The"logs" were tacked on by hand to a piece of fabric called a backing cloth or foundation. Since the early quilts used material from old clothes or blankets, which was frequently worn out, using a foundation was the easiest way to work with the pieces.
Looking back over the centuries, the log cabin pattern has probably only been "quilted with fabrics" for around 200 years. British pioneers brought the pattern with them to America. The Amish in America also brought the pattern with them when they came from Germany. The history of this log cabin pattern is varied and rich, and new theories are still coming to light today.